When former USF President Betty Castor’s name comes up in a conversation, most faculty members and former students smile and have nothing but fond memories. When the name of our current president, Judy Genshaft, comes up though, smiles stop and doors get closed to stop the words that are about to be said from echoing down the hallway, possibly causing disciplinary action to the speaker.
I have asked faculty members about Castor and her almost legendary status, and they told me that they miss the atmosphere of collegial trust between faculty and the president. They also say things now could not be more different than those “good old times.”
From the day Sami Al-Arian was put on paid leave 17 months ago by Genshaft to the day he was fired last week, she refused to even talk to him. Seventeen months and Genshaft could not find the time to talk to a professor of her own university whose status was creating bad press for the university across the nation.
It took Genshaft 17 months to “review the data” she had on Al-Arian and then, mere days after the indictment was released, she fired him. Apparently, she did not spend months to review any data this time, so why could there not have been a decision 17 months earlier? Any decision would have been better than drawing it out that long. The uncertainty was what put the rest of the faculty on edge because they did not know on what terms they were with the president. This also created a bad reputation for USF by appearing in the news over a period of months, rather than just once. For a university that only recently built a good reputation this did major damage.
But the lack of communication extends even farther than this. Dick Beard, Board of Trustees chairman, said in an interview last week that he was unaware the BOT was to meet with the faculty to listen to their concerns. Genshaft had repeatedly promised such a meeting. President and BOT are supposed to work together to make this university overcome problems, but apparently are not doing so very well.
Sometimes Genshaft even contradicts herself. At a news conference announcing Al-Arian’s firing Wednesday, one of our reporters asked her where the rumors about an upcoming indictment had come from. She responded that she had never said she had heard any rumors prior to it. A reporter from a local television station stood up and reminded her that she had said so at a recent BOT meeting. (It was also mentioned in an e-mail signed by Genshaft that went out to all students and faculty.) She backtracked and said “Such rumors could have come from anyone,” thereby evading the question. Pointing at the reporter, she said, “even from you.” The reporter was being put on the spot even though Genshaft was the one who had made a mistake.
Genshaft is this university’s president, and she is being paid a lot to do this job. She recently received a pay raise that bumped her pay to $325,000 a year, not counting benefits such as travel compensation for her husband and full scholarships for her children.
To deserve such a salary she will have to do better. USF now needs a strong leader more than ever to make clear and fair decisions. We need a leader to make this a place of study, where the faculty feel respected and at home, and not a place of breaking news. The value of our degrees depends on it as well as the future of USF as a respected university.
Sebastian Meyer is a junior majoring in environmental firstname.lastname@example.org